From ‘Battlefront II’ to ‘Psychonauts,’ Nostalgia is Inspiring Today’s Best Games
By Jason D’Aprile
The past is prologue, as they say, but that might be more true for those who grow up to create things. In the case of video games, the past was a pixelated delight that helped define the future of entertainment. Retro gaming has taken over 2017 in a big way, and even for developers on the cutting edge, the impact of nostalgia remains profound. So in that spirit, we asked a variety of developers how their gaming past helped define their future as movers and shakers in the gaming industry. The result is a whole lot of love for the past.
Tim Schafer helped define childhood gaming for a lot of 1990s kids with his amazing adventure games at LucasArts and his more recent classics like Psychonauts at his own company, Double Fine. He’s busily engaged in the upcoming Day of the Devs, out November 11, and Psychonauts 2 for 2018. “One of my favorite gaming experiences when I was a kid was playing Adventure on the Atari 2600. I was so excited to get home and play it I didn’t even read the instructions. By the way, games came with instructions back then,” he tells me.
“I just dove right in and was confused as hell. Why is that duck afraid of this arrow? Why is that black H flying around? But I loved figuring it out. And so to this day I’ve tried to remember that it’s okay to let the player be a little confused now and then. Confusion can be entertaining and very satisfying to resolve.”
In Japan, Yoshinori Ono produced Capcom’s latest installment of its super hit, Street Fighter V, and has recollections of how video games brought people together in a way that should feel familiar to anyone who loves games. “As a child, I enjoyed playing Breakout, Space Invaders and other games on Atari,” Ono-san explains. “It was pretty common for parents, siblings and friends to get excited and enjoy video games together, even if only one person was playing. This created a fun atmosphere where those watching were able to engage in friendly banter and offer commentary on what the player could have done differently to succeed.”
He likens the experience of video gaming to the heated discussions of sports fans, where everyone has something to say and second guessing athletes and coaches is part of the fun. It’s an approach that works remarkably well with competitive games like Street Fighter. “One of my goals when it comes to video game production, especially with the Street Fighter series, is to create something that helps to recreate that enjoyable atmosphere from my childhood and the experience of watching sports.”
Bernd Diemer, design director at DICE, is working on EA Games’ brilliant looking Star Wars Battlefront 2, out November 17. Diemer waxes on nostalgically about his childhood in Saarland, Germany, vacationing in the woods without electricity amongst a family of readers. “When I was 11 the whole family went there for summer vacation of 1980. This was way before smartphones, home computers or even the internet. Instead we packed books and board games,” he relays. “To celebrate our arrival my brother and I got a special allowance, 10 francs in coins. I biked to the next village to spend my riches on ice-cream and snacks, and maybe a game of pinball.”
This time, though, the expected pinball game had been replaced with something new. An upright cabinet with a black and white TV screen and strange controls. It was a coin operated arcade game from Atari called Lunar Lander. Like so many gamers who grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the effect it had on young Bernd was profound.
“I put in a coin, stepped on an empty soda crate so I could grab the thruster and my mind was blown. I wasn’t in a French café anymore. I was in space! I was the hero. I was in control of my destiny,” Diemer expounds. “I landed on the moon. I was happily lost in space until I ran out of coins. This moment, this sense of wonder of stepping into a new world is why I love making games.”
The technical art director, co-creative director and cofounder of Wildcard Games, Jesse Rapczak, had a similar experience with classic games. Rapczak and his company make the dinosaur-filled massively multiplayer survival game ARK: Survival Evolved and fell in love with games long ago. “The long and uninhibited video gaming sessions of my formative years were responsible for the sense of wonder, mystery and discovery that we worked so hard to put into ARK,” he says. “Classics like The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, the Sierra Online “Quest” series (King’s Quest, Quest for Glory, Space Quest) and even the misadventures of one Larry Laffer captured my imagination and carried me to other worlds. I wanted ARK players to have that same feeling of being whisked away on a grand adventure, with friends and strangers alike, to a crazy universe with much more to it than meets the eye!”
So, in case you needed proof that video games weren’t a waste of time and could, in fact, lead you to great things in the future, these are just a few of the stories out there about the power of the medium.